What! Why? Is there no Calcutta on the map?

VINCENZO MARIA CORONELLI (1650-1718) who was most likely born in Venice (Italy) was not only a Franciscan friar but also a cartographer. Recently, I spotted one of his maps hanging in a frame in a friend’s home. It is a beautiful work of art, bearing the title (translated from French): “Maritime route from Brest to Siam and from Siam to Brest”. It was made between 1685 and 1686, based on information provided to Coronelli by six Jesuit priests sent out to the Indies by the King of France. Coronelli, based in The Republic of Venice, drew the map.

I was particularly interested to see what of modern India is represented on the map. On the coast of “Guzararatte ou Cambaje” (i.e. Gujarat or Cambay), the Island of Diu, then a Portuguese settlement, is marked, as are “Surate” (Surat) and “Bombaim” and “Chaul” (also  Portuguese settlements). Further south, Goa is marked, and yet further south along the west coast, we can see Calicut and Cochin. On the east coast of India, we can see “Fort S. Thomé” and “Mahapur”, being old names for a place immediately south of Chennai and Mahabalipuram respectively.

The map becomes more interesting when you look at the “Bouches du Gange” (the mouths of the Ganges). Coronelli draws a complex collection of island’s that depict  the Ganges delta, but where one would expect to find Calcutta (Kolkata) on modern maps, there is only a small inset town plan of a place called “Louvo”. This is not a place in India but in modern Thailand (once known as ‘Siam’): its modern name is Lopburi.

The reason that Calcutta is not marked on Coronelli’s map is simple: the place with that name did not exist when the Jesuit priests reported back to Coronelli. Had they made their survey only a little later, they would have been able to report its existence because in August 1686 Job Charnock (c1630-c1692/3) established a trading post (‘factory’) on the River Hooghly, and that became known as Calcutta.  I have visited his grave and mausoleum in central Kolkata.

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